I was born in London, but we moved a number of times before I was 10 as my Dad worked for Marks & Spencer. However, the last family move was to Cardiff, and I was able to have a relatively uninterrupted secondary education in Wales, which was lucky as there was plenty of emphasis on poetry, music and languages in the school I attended. I was given my first guitar when I was 12, but no formal lessons, and my guitar style is therefore largely of my own devising.
I have always “made up” songs, and was surprised to discover that not everyone did, and started to perform at folk clubs at the age of 16 – my first club was the Locomotive on Broadway in Cardiff. The songs attracted attention from the start and I was soon booked at other clubs on a semi-professional basis. An agent from London wanted to make me the “British Joni Mitchell” when I was 17, but I wanted to take up my university place first (and wasn’t altogether convinced of his motives!) and sadly that offer never materialised again.
I went to Warwick University to study French, and while there I was involved in running the university folk club as well as going to some local clubs in Kenilworth and Coventry. From there I went on to London, where I met, made friends with and subsequently shared a house with Bonnie Shaljean. I was in London for just over two years at that time, but then had the chance to live and work in Lyon, France for two years, which was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was when I was living in Lyon that I wrote Icarus, and a translation of the Guillaume de Machaut song Douce Dame Jolie, which brought me to the attention of a publisher.
Coming back to London from a wonderful two years in France was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, but once back I started again to perform in the folk clubs as well as writing for Karl Dallas’s magazine Acoustic Music. I completed formal teacher training and taught in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. I met Nic Jones at a folk club soon after coming back to the UK, and he asked if I would send him a copy of Icarus – I didn’t find out until some time later that he had started singing it, and that it had been having an impact.
Just as I was considering abandoning the folk music circuit and returning to academic work I had a series of meetings within a few days which turned everything around: first of all I heard that Martin Simpson had been singing Icarus, then I met Martin at the Broadstairs festival, and then within a few hours I also met Mary McLaughlin. Mary and I discovered an easy but powerful musical relationship, and formed the duo Anonyma, and Martin insisted on hearing more of my songs and, in due course, insisted on producing the Anonyma album Burnt Feathers. Mary and I worked together as Anonyma for five years, touring the UK, the US and Ireland, and we have remained the best of friends and occasional musical allies.
I returned to working solo, although teaming up from time to time with Steafan Hannigan for tours in the US, and have released a number of albums. No Signposts was the first, initially only available on cassette but later re-mixed and mastered for CD. Spreading Rings came next, and was followed by A Flame in Avalon, Root, Seed, Thorn and Flower, Waiting for the Hero and A Twist in the Story. I’ve been very lucky, and all of the first five albums were made possible by generous loans from friends and supporters while Twist was crowd-funded. Musicians who have helped out include Steafan Hannigan, Ian Kearey, Mike O’Connor, Matt Crum, Julia Lane, Fred Gosbee, Eileen McGann, David K, Mary McLaughlin, Jo Freya and Jacey Bedford.
I moved back to Wales in 2002, in order to be with my husband Steve. We live now in Blaenavon with our two cats. In 2010 I published my first novel, Slipping Through the Cracks, and in 2014 I embarked on research for a PhD to do with a medieval Occitan tale of King Arthur.